Grammy week events begin with salute to Willie Nelson
By KRISTIN M. HALL
Thursday, February 7
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kacey Musgraves, Dave Matthews and Lukas Nelson saluted the outlaw king of country music Willie Nelson with tributes and performances at a famed Los Angeles studio.
The Recording Academy’s Producers and Engineers Wing honored Nelson on Wednesday night ahead of Sunday’s Grammy Awards.
The 85-year-old Texas singer-songwriter was a man of few words when he was presented with a plaque, jokingly asking if he was graduating. He thanked all the producers and engineers, adding that “I’m glad they liked me ‘cause they could have really screwed me up.”
Nelson is nominated for two Grammys: best traditional pop vocal album for “My Way,” a covers album of Frank Sinatra; and best American roots performance for “Last Man Standing.”
The event is regularly held in the small auditorium at The Village, the studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded their seminal record “Tusk,” Bob Dylan recorded “Forever Young” and the hit soundtracks for “The Bodyguard” and “Moulin Rouge” were mixed. Artists and songwriters including Diane Warren, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ziggy Marley, Lisa Loeb, Feist and more attended the event.
Musgraves, who is nominated for three Grammys including album of the year, had much more to say about the “Red-Headed Stranger.”
She said her fellow Texan has an ability to bring together people, no matter their differences: “Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents. Everyone loves Willie,” Musgraves said.
Nelson’s songs are so iconic, “they’re never going to die, and let’s get real: He’s probably not either,” she said
Matthews played the Nelson-penned song “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and a song Matthews wrote that he got Nelson to record, called “Gravedigger.”
Matthews was joined by two of Nelson’s sons, Micah and Lukas, to help cover songs like “Crazy,” and “I Thought About You, Lord.” Lukas Nelson, who worked on the soundtrack and film for “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, can sing a dead-on impersonation of his father’s unique high singing style.
But a gruff-sounding Willie returned to the stage to trade guitar licks and sing with his sons on “Living in the Promiseland,” before ending with his trademark, “On the Road Again.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall
Opinion: The Real Story Behind ‘The Favourite’
By Rachel Carnell
“The Favourite,” which has scored 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, has been praised for critiquing the rich and powerful and those who curry their favor. Brad Gullickson describes it as “a deeply satisfying dark comedy of bottomfeeders.” It is also, as Esther Zuckerman observes, “about women’s caustic friendships and how they negotiate power.”
But, despite its cinematographically rich depiction of palace intrigue, the film is not an accurate portrait of Queen Anne or the political standoff between Whigs and Tories that brought down the Marlboroughs in 1710. The true story of Queen Anne’s court that year is not a story of an impulsive monarch whimsically adopting and dismissing court favorites, but a story about rising anti-European sentiment, insider political satire, a high-profile libel suit, and an impeachment trial that aroused populist mob protests.
The film’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos, may not have made as many revisions to history as Mel Gibson made in “Braveheart.” But facts still matter. The real history of Queen Anne’s reign has even more relevance to today’s world than the lesbian triangle Lanthimos renders so artistically.
“The Favourite” accurately captures the power struggle between Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and her cousin Abigail Masham, but it overplays the likelihood of lesbianism.
As Anne Somerset explains in “Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion,” Sarah felt that “lesbianism was a disgusting vice, with which she had never been tainted.”
The Duchess of Marlborough accused the queen of having a lesbian relationship with Abigail, but this was to shame the queen into dismissing Abigail, who was, as the film suggests, facilitating meetings between the queen and the Tory MP Robert Harley, who wanted to end the War of Spanish Succession.
Harley was, like Sarah, a cousin of Abigail, not a brutish fop who coerced her into allegiance by pushing her into the mud. And Sarah was not concerned about losing Anne’s friendship for her own sake but for fear of losing influence she felt was essential to Britain winning the war against the autocratic, expansionist Catholic monarch Louis XIV of France.
Having encouraged Anne to rebel against her own father, James II, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, to prevent him from returning England to Catholicism, the Marlboroughs wanted to prevent the Catholic pretender to the British throne, living under the protection of Louis XIV, from making another attempt to claim power in Britain.
It is remarkable to see a film about the under-appreciated Queen Anne, rather than merely another film about the better-known and more physically attractive monarchs Elizabeth I or Mary Queen of Scots (although there is also one of those out this season for those viewers who cannot get enough of the Tudor era).
It is disappointing, however, to see the careful and diligent Anne — punctilious for ceremony — reduced to sitting on the floor eating cake with pet rabbits (also a fiction), then vomiting. Yes, Anne suffered from gout, near-sightedness, obesity, and the tragedy of 18 pregnancies that produced no surviving heir, but she was above all regal and diligent in her monarchical duties.
Queen Anne was slow to put her thoughts into words, but she was not stupid. She cooperated with William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution, preserving England’s Protestant national church. She led England to the union with Scotland in 1707, creating the modern nation of Great Britain. She oversaw the army’s increasing success against the French, helping change the balance of power between powerful wealthy Catholic France and the Protestant nations of Europe.
Anne was a Tory who tried to run a government balanced between Whigs and Tories but was finally brow-beaten by Whigs at court, including the Duchess of Marlborough, who insisted on a Whig majority in her cabinet.
The Marlboroughs and the Whigs did lose their grip on power in 1710, but it was not because Abigail displaced Sarah as Anne’s lesbian lover (nor did Abigail poison her cousin). The Whigs fell from power because they continued to support an expensive foreign war that seemed increasingly to be fought for European, not British, interests.
The war was also driving thousands of German-speaking Protestant refugees into Britain, raising the level of anti-immigrant sentiment. In other words, three centuries before the British voted for Brexit, they were already skeptical of their relationship with Europe.
The Whigs also made two other major tactical errors that year. They took a libel suit against a best-selling Tory satirist, Delarivier Manley, who had mocked prominent court Whigs, including the Marlboroughs — an arrest that went against the Whigs’ usual liberal tolerance for satire.
At the same time, the Whigs pursued an impeachment case against a Tory clergyman in the Church of England, Henry Sacheverell, who had preached a sermon undermining Whig principles of the legality of resistance to authority. The impeachment, pursued for ideological more than criminal reasons, aroused populist mobs of protesters in support of the clergyman.
The libel suit was strategically dismissed just before the impeachment trial began, and Mrs. Manley soon brought out a sequel to her best-selling satire, further tarnishing the Whigs. While the Whigs won the impeachment trial against Sacheverell, they lost the battle of public opinion and were trounced in the Parliamentary elections in the autumn of 1710.
Had Lanthimos dug a little deeper into the historical events behind the palace intrigue at Queen Anne’s court, his dystopian cinematographic satire might had offered an even more nuanced reflection on our own era.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rachel Carnell is a professor of 18th-century literature at Cleveland State University and is author of “Partisan Politics, Narrative Realism, and the Rise of the British Novel.” She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Did academia kill jazz?
February 7, 2019
At some point, jazz went from the music of youthful rebellion to that of the cultured elite.
Author: Adam Gustafson, Instructor in Music, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Adam Gustafson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Jazz seems to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance among movie directors – look no further than documentaries such as “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” which just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, biopics such as “Born to Be Blue,” and recent Oscar winners like “Whiplash.”
While films about jazz are everywhere, evidence suggests that fewer people are actually consuming the music, putting the genre more on par with classical music than with today’s pop artists.
There are a host of reasons for the decline of jazz as a popular music, but the one that interests me as a music historian is the role that academics played.
In our attempt to elevate jazz to the ivory tower, we may have inadvertently helped to kill it as a popular style.
However, all is not lost. While the genre might seem destined for academic obscurity, jazz continues to kick around in popular music – just in subtler ways.
Jazz captivates the country
In the 1920s, during the early years of the Great Migration, waves of black Americans migrated from the South into the industrial cities of the North. Black jazz musicians, particularly those from New Orleans, brought their sound with them. They moved to neighborhoods such as The Stroll in Chicago, Black Bottom in Detroit, 12th Street and Vine in Kansas City and, of course, Harlem. This occurred just as the record industry blossomed and radios became mainstays in American homes.
Jazz was well-positioned to become the most popular genre of music in the nation.
Over the next decade, the genre underwent a transformation. Artists began to amass larger ensembles, fusing the energy of jazz with the volume of dance bands. The Swing Era was born, and jazz orchestras dominated pop charts.
These developments led to a new set of issues. Larger bands meant less freedom to improvise, the cornerstone of jazz. During the 1940s, music recordings became increasingly important, and jazz musicians found themselves frustrated with how little they were being paid, resulting in a series of strikes by the American Federation of Musicians.
By the time these problems were resolved, America’s youth had already begun gravitating toward new styles of R&B and country, which would eventually morph into rock ‘n’ roll: After that, jazz never really recovered.
From the club to the classroom
Jazz underwent another, more subtle, shift during that same time period: It left the club and went to college.
After World War II, jazz genres fractured and the music became more complex. It also became popular among college students. Dave Brubeck Quartet released several albums in the early 1950s that acknowledged the group’s popularity with the college crowd, including “Jazz at Oberlin” and “Jazz at the College of the Pacific.”
Perhaps university administrators wanted to elevate a distinctly American genre to a status of “high art.” Or, maybe they just wanted to capitalize on jazz’s popularity among college students. Either way, universities started to create curriculums geared towards the genre, and by the end of the 1950s, several institutions, such as the University of North Texas and the Berklee College of Music, had jazz programs up and running.
In the classroom, jazz was explored in a new way. Rather than hearing jazz played while grinding on a dance floor, it became something to dissect. In one of the earliest jazz histories, “The Story of Jazz,” musicologist Marshall Stearns captures this shift. He begins his book by explaining how difficult it is to categorize the spirit of jazz. He then spends over 300 pages trying to do just that.
Popular culture began to reflect jazz’s shifting identity as the music of educated people. The 1953 film “The Wild One” features a bouncing big band soundtrack that underscores the shenanigans of a motorcycle gang led by Marlon Brando.
Just two years later, “Blackboard Jungle,” also features delinquent kids – except this time, they prefer the sound of Bill Haley. In one scene, their math teacher tries to get the kids to appreciate his collection of jazz records. The scene ends with the kids beating the teacher and breaking his records.
‘Music is based on mathematics, and – it’s just, the next class is a little more advanced.’
Jazz had gone from the music of youthful rebellion to that of the cultured elite.
During the 1960s, jazz may have been as eclectic as ever. But academics like historian Neil Leonard continued to push for jazz to be made into a serious subject of academic inquiry, as he argued in his book “Jazz and the White Americans.” Professional groups devoted to the study of jazz education were founded, such as the National Association for Jazz Education.
During the 1970s and 1980s, introductory jazz courses started to reach critical mass and led to the growth of what jazz critic Nate Chinen dubbed the “jazz-education industry.” Playing jazz required a college degree. Jazz had become the music of the educated. It was the music of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, one a doctor and the other a lawyer, from “The Cosby Show.”
Just don’t call it ‘jazz’
In the last 20 years, jazz’s identity as an academic art form has only grown. At my institution, almost all of the non-classical course offerings in the music school are about jazz.
Today, in any given semester on any given campus, you can find college students sitting in classrooms at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday trying to absorb the importance and complexity of a music meant to be heard in a club at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. It’s become Brussels sprouts for budding music aficionados: You know it’s good for you, but it doesn’t necessarily taste all that great.
Outside of the classroom, a dwindling audience base has forced traditional jazz venues to play into the notion of jazz as an educated person’s music. The current iteration of Minton’s Playhouse, a club that was once a bastion of jazz energy, now calls jazz “America’s classical music” in an attempt to raise the profile of the genre (and perhaps justify the cost of the steaks being served there).
Other venues have minimized jazz. This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will feature decidedly non-jazz artists such as Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones and Chris Stapleton.
Despite jazz’s distance from its popular roots, a little digging shows that we still like listening to jazz more than we think. We just stopped openly calling it jazz.
Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” is every bit as much a jazz album as it is a rap album, thanks to Lamar’s collaboration with the saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Washington also had a short film, “As Told to G/D Thyself,” based on his album, “Heaven and Earth,” at Sundance.
Lamar’s album was such a revelation that it inspired David Bowie to feature a jazz ensemble as his backing band for his final rock album, “Blackstar.”
Meanwhile, the music collective Snarky Puppy has become an international sensation by creating long-form jazz works while avoiding any specific labels. Another music collective, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, has found a way to keep the sound of jazz alive – and to embrace jazz’s lighter side – by transforming contemporary pop songs into historical jazz genres.
With academia positioning jazz as art music, the genre is unlikely to experience a popular resurgence any time soon.
But today’s artists are proving that the spirit of jazz is alive and well, and that jazz is much more than its name.
Maybe this is fitting: The earliest jazz musicians didn’t call their music “jazz” either. Instead, they blended their sound with pre-existing pop genres, and, in doing so, created one of the most distinct forms of music in American history.
Some reservations, Prof. Gustafson:
Be-bop and Cool Jazz arose some years before Academia started bringing jazz into its classrooms. Moreover, with their absorption of harmonic and rhythmic patterns from Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Stravinsky, 1940s and 50s jazz became less of a music for dancing and more of a higher Art form just for listening. (Try to imagine couples dancing to Brubeck’s “Take Five” or “Strange Meadowlark,” or to Bird’s “Ornithology” or Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven”!)
When I was a music student in the early 1960s, jazz was still considered something unworthy of higher musical consideration and study. Hence, seeing jazz as a subject deserving of scholarly and classroom attention is, in many ways, a positive development.
Musical styles and fashions constantly change. Bop replaced Swing, just as Rock eventually replaced Jazz. Atonality and Neo-classicism in turn displaced Romanticism, just as, sometime later, Minimalism edged Atonality aside. The process is inevitable.
Gene H. Bell-Villada
(Author, ART FOR ART’S SAKE & LITERARY LIFE. My final chapter touches on these musical matters.)
Amazon HQ2: Texas experience shows why New Yorkers should be skeptical
February 7, 2019
Nathan Jensen, Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin
Calvin Thrall, PhD Student in Business and Development, University of Texas at Austin
Disclosure statement: Nathan Jensen received funding for this research project the University of Texas IC2 Institute. Calvin Thrall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
New York offered Amazon close to US$3 billion to build a “second” headquarters in Long Island City on the promise of 25,000 jobs.
Since the deal was joyfully announced in November, however, many local residents and some politicians in the area have been questioning whether it’s worth it, both in terms of the price tag and the impact on housing and traffic congestion. There’s now a real possibility that the deal could be blocked.
The research supports those who question the wisdom of cities and states incentivizing economic development. Studies suggest the jobs and economic gains are usually not worth the tax breaks since the majority of companies would have come even without incentives.
And that’s when the companies try to live up to the promises they made. They don’t always do so, with the latest example being Foxconn’s announcement that it is reconsidering plans to build a factory in Wisconsin – less than a year after agreeing to create up to 13,000 high-tech jobs in exchange for more than $4.5 billion in incentives.
But how often do companies that agree to build factories and create jobs in exchange for economic incentives back away from their promises? And when they do, do taxpayers ever learn about it?
To shine light on these questions, we conducted a study of a Texas economic development program. Taxpayers in any American city considering luring a company with cash should take heed.
Something to hide?
The Texas Enterprise Fund, which started in 2003, allows the state to offer cash grants to companies in exchange for promises of investments and job creation. As of Jan. 1, the program had provided over $600 million in cash incentives to companies vowing to create over 94,000 direct jobs in Texas.
In our study, we submitted public records requests for company applications and agreements for grants. We wanted to see what companies had promised the state in return for the cash.
Our research led to two troubling findings. First, public record law in Texas allows companies themselves to legally challenge requests – which is controversial yet not uncommon among other states.
In our study, 42 out of the 165 recipient companies submitted legal challenges to our requests. Before even seeing the data, we were asking ourselves: What are these companies trying to hide?
Although companies were partially successful in limiting our requests, primarily in getting certain parts of their proposals redacted, the governor’s office ultimately provided us with a complete list of companies that had some amendment to their contracts.
To our surprise, over a quarter of companies in the program – or 46 – had renegotiated their incentive deals with the state. These deals weren’t announced by the governor’s office nor were they reported anywhere online.
Our public records request is still unfolding and we still haven’t received the contracts for roughly two-thirds of these companies. For the 63 companies whose contracts we received, 29 had amendments to the original.
SpaceX and Comerica
Most of these amended contracts were designed to reduce companies’ commitments to job creation. Two cases in point are SpaceX and Comerica.
SpaceX – a company that designs, manufactures and operates commercial spacecraft – received a $2.3 million grant in 2013 in exchange for a commitment to create 300 jobs at a new launch facility near Brownsville, Texas. In 2017, however, the company secretly renegotiated its grant contract to halve the size of the deal: SpaceX would reduce its commitment to 150 new jobs in return for a grant of $1.15 million. The situation is still a mystery, however, because the fund hasn’t paid any funds nor has SpaceX reported jobs as part of the program.
Comerica received $3.5 million in 2007 in exchange for its commitment to create 200 jobs as part of its plan to move its headquarters to Dallas from Detroit. In 2012, the financial services giant amended the contract to allow 15 of its current executives – including the CEO – to be counted towards the job and wage target as long they relocated to Texas.
In case after case, companies renegotiated grant contracts in similar ways to get a better deal, all while avoiding public scrutiny. In contrast, announcements of the original agreements were typically covered as big events and photo ops, such as when former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and SpaceX founder Elon Musk broke ground together.
Amazon is reportedly considering setting up headquarters in Gantry Plaza State Park. Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
Perhaps most disturbingly, our two findings – company challenges and renegotiations – were related.
We found that companies that had renegotiated their contracts were much more likely to have challenged our public records request, at almost double the rate.
This pattern is consistent with companies using public records laws to hide their non-compliance with their job creation promises.
The finding, even if limited to a single state, is troubling. If companies can not only secretly renegotiate the deals but also make sure that public records laws shield them from revealing that they did, then the contracts are meaningless. And we would argue that politicians are at the very least complicit with these private deals.
In the cases of New York and Virginia – the other state that received a new Amazon location as a part of its “HQ2” bidding process – the agreements they signed requires them to notify the online retailer of any public records requests in order to give it the opportunity to legally challenge them.
More broadly, secrecy pervades the entire process of economic development. For example, during the many months-long competition to win HQ2, Wisconsin officials purposely routed their Amazon bid through agencies not subject to public records requests, emails show. And cities like Austin and Los Angeles submitted their bids through non-public entities like the Chambers of Commerce as a way to shield them from public scrutiny.
When public records aren’t public
Throughout the country we have observed exceptions to public records laws and “creative” ways government official can circumvent these laws.
And the costs of this lack of transparency can be high, as audits of economic development programs in New Jersey and New York show.
The scathing audit of New York’s Excelsior Jobs Program found not only a lack of due diligence but also a staff that had changed the required number of jobs for companies that were falling short of their creation requirements. And this program happens to also be providing much of the incentives for Amazon’s HQ2.
In other words, after politicians stage photo ops of company announcements, little is done to make sure companies are complying with these agreements.
Will New York also fail to hold Amazon accountable if it doesn’t live up to its commitments? The evidence doesn’t offer much reason for optimism.
James Collins, Damn good job of researching a gray area topic. Governments competing with each other for businesses that play the taxpayers fools. I like reading articles that informs me, this one met that criteria, challenging requests of information is something I did not thought of when I saw the headline. Nice job !